Real Life, Dream Life

Nanni Moretti, NYC, 9/25/15

Nanni Moretti, NYC, 9/25/15

Had I not loved my mother profoundly and had she not died 13 years ago (seems like forever, seems like yesterday), I would still have been mesmerized and moved by Italian auteur Nanni Moretti’s beautiful film “Mia Madre.”

Margherita (Margherita Buy, wonderful), a complicated middle-aged film director is struggling, moving between creating the reality of her latest film, a political story about striking factory workers, and her real life, which seems like a dream, dominated by the serious illness of her beloved mother (Giulia Lazzarini), a scholar and professor, who is hospitalized.

The production is troubled. Margherita’s star, Barry Huggins (a very funny John Turturro) is American, self-absorbed and obnoxious, unable to remember his lines or adjust to his fake mustache. Her actors look at her quizzically when she offers a favorite bit of direction about both playing the character and standing next to the character. Her crew members are pushy and have too many opinions.

Filmmaking hours, long and irregular, prevent Margherita from spending enough time visiting and attending to her mother and meeting with the doctors. Her brother Giovanni (Moretti) who has recently taken a leave of absence from a job he won’t resume, devotes himself to their mother but doesn’t judge Margherita, understanding she’s conflicted. And he understands the prickly areas of her personality.

While Margherita is always surrounded by people, personally and professionally, she seems very alone. She has recently left her boyfriend, an actor with a part in her film, whom she mistreated, and a gap has opened between her and her teenage daughter Livia.

The narrative occurs on several levels–Margherita’s reality, dreams, thoughts and memories–and it’s very effective when they’re initially indistinguishable, and when they seem to blend.

The all-consuming upheaval caused by the major trauma of a dying parent is expressed by Margherita and Giovanni using an identical sentence: “I don’t understand anything anymore.” She thinks it during a press conference for her new film as she’s offering her well-practiced statements about her work, which suddenly seems meaningless. He says it to her, as they sit together outside the hospital, trying to accept what seems unreal (and unbearable)–that their mother has very little time left.

The morning after their mother has died, a former student passing through Rome visits at her apartment. He’s shocked and saddened and tells Margherita and Giovanni how important Ada had been in his life. It’s the first time we hear her name–she’s always been “mamma”–and get a glimpse of the woman beyond the loving and beloved mother who had a reality larger than her children knew.

“Mia Madre” will open on Friday, August 26 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center, in Washington, D.C. at the Avalon, and in Los Angeles at three Laemmle Theatres. A nationwide rollout will follow.

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Kate Plays Kate Playing Christine

Kate Lyn Sheil and Robert Greene, NYC, 6/20/16

Kate Lyn Sheil and Robert Greene, NYC, 6/20/16

In Robert Greene’s engrossing new film (expertly shot by Sean Price Williams), “Kate Plays Christine,” he watches actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play Christine Chubbick, a TV reporter at a local Florida station who committed suicide on-air in 1974.

Sheil begins her research with an article on Chubbick by Sally Quinn for the Washington Post. She temporarily moves to an apartment in Sarasota, to meet people who knew the newscaster. Chubbick’s mother tells Sheil that Christine “was out-of-gear with other people.” From colleagues, Sheil learns that she was good at her job, worked hard and fought with her news director about her stories getting bumped for more sensational reports. Sheil listens carefully without expressing judgement.

Asking “how do we know someone?”, Sheil approaches Chubbick psychologically (believing she was lonely and suffered from depression), trying to feel comfortable (or more appropriately, ill-at-ease) in her subject’s skin. She also tries to reach her through her exterior appearance, with a long dark wig , brown contact lenses, a salon spray tan and vintage outfits. Sheil buys a gun from a local store, the Bullet Hole, as Chubbick did.

Sheil becomes protective of Chubbick, empathetic, unwilling to exploit her suicide to feed our culture’s fascination with violence. But when she ferociously acts out on set, condemning the crew as “fucking sadists,” the emphasis is on acting. We’re watching, as we have been, “Kate.”

Greene slowly reveals the jolting surprise at the heart of the film–the documentary is based on a fiction: the Christine Chubbick feature doesn’t exist. Sheil’s probing prep is the film’s riveting and emotional performance.

“Kate Plays Christine” opens today at IFC Center. There will be Q&As today through Saturday with Robert Greene with guest moderators. A further rollout will follow.

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Seeing Clearly Through the Steam

Andrew Ahn and Joe Seo, NYC, 6/17/16

Andrew Ahn and Joe Seo, NYC, 6/17/16

In director Andrew Ahn’s assured and atmospheric debut feature, “Spa Night,” is an uncommon coming-of-age-story with real risks. Handsome and athletic Korean-American teenager David Cho (Joe Seo, who won the Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance for his quietly powerful performance) is on the brink of manhood, dealing with his ethnic and sexual identities. A dutiful son, he’s struggling with what he can to please his loving immigrant parents, who have endlessly sacrificed for him, and what he must do to be true to himself.

After his family’s small restaurant closes, David secretly gets a part-time job–his parents want him to concentrate on studying for the SATs–in an all-male spa. The film, gorgeously photographed in wide screen, transforms the rooms of steam and water into a near dream world, removed from David’s reality, where he begins to accept his desire.

“Spa Night” opens today at Metrograph for a one-week run.  Andrew Ahn and  Joe Seo will be in attendance at this evening’s 7:00pm screening, on Saturday, August 20 at 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm, and on Sunday, August 21 at 3:00 pm and 5:15 pm. The film will open in Los Angeles on Friday, August 26, with a nationwide rollout to follow.

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My Beautiful Outlier

Leo, Swimming Hole, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/9/16

Leo, swimming hole, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/9/16

Half birthdays as milestones only apply to the very young and the impressively old. Leo is 14 1/2 today. And while we’re unwilling to say that he’s old (we say older), we’re aware of our good luck–the life expectancy of a Labrador is 12.

Leo, healthy, happy and hungry, offers his secrets for his longevity: good genes, swimming, retrieving over land and in water, lots of sleep, Ryder, Blue Buffalo, sharing whatever we’re eating and a daily glass of a good Côtes du Rhône (I made that part up).

Happy half birthday, beloved Schmoo, and borrowing from a chant that I wish were applicable in 2016’s political season (I miss President Obama already), four more years.

Leo, Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/12/16

Leo, Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/12/16

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Crazy Love Rules

Maïwenn, NYC

Maïwenn, NYC

The title of director and co-writer Maïwenn’s complicated romance, “My King,” is ironic, not a declaration of  a woman’s fealty (but maybe an admission of her emotional powerlessness). Early, in the giddy phase of Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Georgio’s (Vincent Cassel) decade-long amour fou, she asks him if, like her other boyfriends, he’s going to turn out to be a jerk. He says no, and then slyly (and seductively) confesses, “I’m the king of the jerks.”

Recovering in a rehab facility after a fierce wipeout on a ski slope, Tony struggles to restore her body, and removed from her life and stressful law practice, her psychological balance. Her long, tumultuous relationship with mercurial Giorgio, the father of her son, a restaurateur with debts and sometime drug issues, has ended and she needs to understand and be released from the destructive passion.

Both leads provide totally charismatic, wholly believable performances, with seamless support from the other actors (including Maïwenn’s sister, Isild Le Besco, whose character has my sister’s name, spelled differently, but pronounced Babette). Bercot’s portrayal of a woman, with a big, infectious laugh, nearly driven mad by a man she can’t quite have and can’t quite leave deservedly won her the Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

A bit formulaic, perhaps, and a bit too long, but “Mon Roi” is irresistible. I love the film, so much fun to vicariously (i.e., safely) live Tony’s relationship . Who wouldn’t want to have a big love affair (fou or otherwise) with Vincent Cassel?

“My King” will open on Friday, August 12 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and on Friday, August 26 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal.

Vincent Cassel, NYC

Vincent Cassel, NYC

Although I’m always thinking about movies, this is just a capsule review because it’s almost mid-August and I’m distracted by trying to eat a winter’s worth of tomatoes and peaches and throwing balls and sticks for Leo and Ryder at the swimming hole.

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Where Suzhou River Meets the East River

Lou Ye, NYC, 3/24/00

Lou Ye, NYC, 3/24/00

Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye’s second feature, the richly atmospheric “Suzhou River” (2000), echoes “Vertigo,” diving deeply into obsessive love, voyeurism and mistaken identity. Here Scottie is a Shanghai motorcycle messenger in his mid-20s who falls hard for a lovely young woman he’s hired to kidnap.

Lou calls Shanghai’s river “the blood of the city,” flowing through poor and chaotic neighborhoods, home to dive-y nightclubs, abandoned warehouses and the criminal underworld. He shot his romantic film noir working with a first-time cinematographer, Wang Yu, and the film’s micro budget dictated its use of handheld cameras, partially determining its stylish look.

“Suzhou River” will be shown on Wednesday, August 10, part of Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual open-air international film festival, which, celebrating Queens’ diversity, focuses on a different country or culture each week. Presented in collaboration with Film Forum and Rooftop Films, this year’s edition, programmed by Mike Maggiore, takes the river, literally and metaphorically, as its theme.

Admission is free. Pre-screening performance by FJ Music Fusion begins at 7:oo pm and food is available from Noodle Code and Yumpling. The film screens at sundown. Next Wednesday, August 17, an early Herzog masterpiece, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972), will be shown.

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The Interpretation of Dreams

Clockwise from top: Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lily Baldwin, Dan Schoenbrun and Lauren Wolkstein

Clockwise from top: Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lily Baldwin, Dan Schoenbrun and Lauren Wolkstein

Filming each other’s dreams freed filmmakers Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein, Frances Bodomo and Lily Baldwin from the conventional requirements of narrative. And with this concept, originated by executive producer Dan Schoenbrun, they made the “somnomnibus” “collective:unconscious,” five experimental shorts filled with beauty and invention. Amazing animation of the filmmakers by Maya Edelman precedes the films, which are punctuated by mini sessions with hypnotherapist Dan Ryan.

The immersive worlds include endless intrusive sound coming from loudspeakers on a rural fire tower, countered by a folksinger, possibly from Eastern Europe, and a young man recording her (Daniel Patrick Carbone); manic dancers and a newly released incarcerated man, easily slipping between distant locations (Josephine Decker); a gender nonconforming teenager saving a gym class from a volcano and an equally dangerous phys. ed. teacher with a creep’s mustache (Lauren Wolkstein); Ripa the Reaper (the great Tonya Perkins), the star of a weekly TV show, “Everybody Dies!” which is shot like an 80s public-access broadcast, with the accompanying muffled sound (Frances Bodomo); and a major maternal meltdown, photographed with a pale palette in a grocery store and at a bbq party at a suburban house, and heightened with sequences of ferocious choreography (Lily Baldwin, who also stars and dances).

“collective:unconscious” will open Friday, August 5 at Made in NY Media Center by IFP (30 John Street, Dumbo) for a one-week run, with special events after each show. The film will be available free online on Tuesday, August 9.

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